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U.S. Government-Sponsored Study Calls for More Rigor in Nutritional Labeling

A U.S. government-sponsored study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported, in late October 2011, that the packaging and labeling of domestic food and beverage products should display pertinent nutritional information and graphics to assist consumers. These label contents should help the consuming public locate healthy products and make better health-conscious decisions when they shop and eat. The study suggested that the United States adopt a similar system for food and drink nutritional labeling as is currently used for the Energy Star system for energy-saving appliances, complete with easily recognizable graphic symbols in bold designs and colors.

What Would the Newly Proposed Nutritional Labels Say?

The IOM report recommended that the most pertinent content about the health of a food or beverage product should be displayed on the front of packaging. For example, the size of the serving, calories per serving, types of fats, sodium content, and additional sugars would be included in bold, graphic, prominent labels included on the front panel of the food product. This additional uniform label would ensure that consumers have the pertinent health information at a quick glance for all types of similar products, so they can make more efficient health-conscious selections.

New Nutritional Labels Would Serve Multiple Purposes

The IOM's suggested upgrades to nutritional labeling would do more than assist consumers in making more health-savvy food and drink purchasing decisions with the rating symbols displayed on all product labels. The improved labeling, if put into place, would also assist in combating high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. These diet-related diseases and health conditions are sadly at all-time high levels in the United States because of the mass amounts of processed foods, fast foods, and junk food in homes, schools, and restaurants.

Institute of Medicine's Report Was Geared to the Food and Drug Administration

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was already at work on revamping the food labeling system to make it more consumer-friendly when the IOM issued its report. In recent months, the FDA has had to battle companies touting nutritional attributes of their products in false or misleading manners, so the use of a uniform label with defined content would help address such problems. The IOM report, geared to the FDA, urged the organization to adopt new label requirements and standards to declutter the content now on labels. The IOM also urged the FDA to put a system into place for nutritional labeling that would allow consumers to make better health decisions in their food purchases more rapidly. However, the IOM was quick to note that the suggested nutritional labeling symbol approach would not replace Nutrition Facts information that is printed in detail on the back of products in a black-and-white panel. The graphic and bold symbol addition would be placed on the front of the package and would appear uniform in color, size, and usage, so as to become instantly recognizable to consumers for its existence and meaning.